Scathing Book Reviews of 1421: The Year China Discovered America, by Gavin Menzies

1421: The Year China Discovered America by Gavin Menzies is also known as 1421: The Year China Discovered the World, by those unfortunate enough to not live in America. (I keed, I keed…)  Seriously, that is its title overseas, and whether you agree with the thesis of 1421 or not, it’s safe to say that someone at Harper Collins discovered localized editions sometime in the 20th Century.

Now, as someone who’ll never forget reading about Thor Heyerdahl for the first time back in 4th Grade, I have to admit that the concept of the Chinese discovering America is intriguing, and y’know, those Aztec temples do look a lot like some Chinese restaurants I’ve been to.  When I read The Discoverers years back, I remember reading about the Chinese Treasure fleet with awe, and I would imagine one of those vessels would be easily large enough to sail across the ocean.  PBS, apparently needing something people would ACTUALLY WATCH for a pledge drive, even came out with a 1421 DVD, which no doubt now comes with a complimentary PBS tote bag for every pledge over $50.

However, the lack of solid documentation, and criticism of respected historians, combined with the recent publication of 1434, in which Menzies credits China with sparking the Italian Renaissance, makes me think that the author simply fell in love with his idea.  I’m sure he believes that China did all he claims… But I don’t.  On the other hand, no one once believed the Vikings visited North America prior to Columbus, which is now an accepted and documented fact.  However, these Scathing Book Reviews of 1421: The Year China Discovered America , think the book is like Chop Suey – apparently authentic, but not quite:

This is quite possibly the worst book ever written. A five year old could have written something that would have had more historical merit.

…and:

Menzies’ own account of his research techniques leaves one gasping with incredulity at his incompetence.

…and:

Oh, boy! This enormous example of what Samuel Eliot Morison called “moonstruck history” is a poorly edited, contradictory and irksome argument that the Chinese voyages of 1420 and following went not only to Africa, as Louise Levathes and others have documented, but circled the earth including treks to near the North and South Poles and planted colonies in North and South America.

…and:

 If you believe that little green men from outer space built Stonehenge or the Nazca lines in Peru, this is the book you want to read.

…and:

I would give this book no stars, excepting two factors. First, the part about trained otters was cool. Second, it made me laugh.

…and:

This book is both good and original, but but part that is good isn’t original and the part that is original isn’t good.

…and:

As a professor of Chinese history, I cringe now thinking about the time that I will have to take during class, time that could be used teaching about Chinese history and civilization, to disabuse students who have heard about this caper.

…and:

Eric von Danekin showed more scholarship in making his claim that aliens built the pyramids… Pseudo-science and pseudo-history are going downhill.

…and:

…I’m open to this story at the beginning. But I’m from Missouri, so when, on page 415, I find “the Mississippi River west of Kansas City” that old show-me attitude really kicks in…

…and, of course, the mandatory decrying of slipping standards:

It can only be an indictment of our currrent, media-addled culture that anyone would take this book as serious history.

…and this reviewer of 1421 believes the Chinese must’ve made one other major discovery. That’s right, the little blue pill:

I… enjoyed him having the Chinese making sperm donations throughout the New World into New Mexico and Arizona. They were definitely intrepid and must have also had Viagra.

Scathing Book Reviews of the Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien

The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien is many things to many people. To some, a fun fantasy. To others, the cornerstone of their reading list. To an unfortunate few, a way of life, and to Peter Jackson, an admirable achievement and cash cow.

I read the Lord of the Rings for the first time back about 1982, and my first thought was “Wow, this is amazingly similar to The Sword of Shannara!”. After I got a bit older I realized it was actually vice-versa. I’ve probably read it about 2 times since, once after the Peter Jackson Film came out.

Do I like it? Sure, but as I’ve matured, I’ve begun to look at it the way I do “Star Wars” – good, but embarrassing to think I once valued it so highly.  After all, in the end its just a fairy tale. These Scathing Book Reviews of the Lord of the Rings don’t “boo” it, but they’re like Gollum in that they give it a “Hisssssssss….“:

I could barely make it through the first novel. I found myself having to force my way through a sea of overwrought description. Tolkien’s writing style, if one can call it a style, is dull and overly wordy. His characters are flat, especially his female characters, who all just seem to be waiting by the sidelines for the men to come home. I couldn’t bring myself to care about any of them…

…and this from a reviewer that is, shall we say, a bit too well informed about Fantasy novels:

I cannot believe all the hype this series gets, it is a boring, stereotypical fantasy that leaves all its wizards being REALLY old farts with long white beards, diminutive characters in more way then one (Yes, I know that this was a really bad pun)I have never disliked a fantasy other then this one, and I have read more then enough to make this claim (well over 300 books of this genre in the last 5 or so years).

…and:

i cried because i spent seventy dollars for this “classic” edition hearing how good this piece of crap was, so i was like, “hey, why not???” i struggled through the hobbit and the fellowship of the ring before i cried. another reason i cried was reason i cried was because THEY SUCKED!!!!!!!!!! i have read the sword of shannara by terry brooks and even though it followed the same plot, it was a billion times better than this piece of b.s.! I mean, what’s up with those defunktitated songs?!

…and:

This book is not good, it is a neverending story to me. THe beginning was so sucky and did not make you want to read at all. I read Fellowship of the ring. I got to this council part, and i felt like I had had anough. I was like 200 pages through the book and all I had read was how the Hobbit walked through the jungle, and how good hid breakfest.

…and a negative comparison to the “prestigious” Dungeons and Dragons novels:

This book have no depth and noone can compare these with DragonLance ChronicLes or Dark ELf series.

…and:

Scathing Reviews of Watchmen by Alan Moore

Watchmen, by Alan Moore is an award-winning graphic novel currently being adapted into a “Watchmen Movie” by Warner Brothers. We will all know this and more by the time the Studio’s marketing machine finishes it job, and will no doubt be giving each other Watchmen DVDs during Christmas 2009, and probably even Watchmen Watches.

I read Superhero comics back when it was originally published, and finally read it in the 1990s, whilst sipping a Grande Mocha at my neighborhood Barnes & Noble. My impression? To use a fanboy term – “Meh”. I appreciate the effort, and understand its industry impact, but I think its a bit overpraised. Here are some other Scathing Reviews of Watchmen that would encourage you not to Watch the Watchmen:

There are people around who insist on comparing this stuff to great works of literature. I wonder if they ever read any.

…and:

The art is subpar, the cliches glaring, and the “mature humor” nearly as subtle as Roseanne.

…and:

The artwork is gross and uninteresting, the characters, at least in the first 60 pages, are completely boring, uninteresting and hollow. And there’s not a moment of comic relief.

…and:

The story was incredibly average. The art was mediocre at best. Alan Moore’s writing is eloquent but an eloquently written boring story is still boring.

…and:

Teenagers, poorly-read and possessing malnourished tastes in prose, [are] predictably awestruck… They thought it was ‘realistic’; they thought this was ‘great literature’.

…and:

I did not care about the characters at all. Who cares! Oh boo hoo I am a brooding super hero. Feel my pain?

…and:

It is the kind of thing that is trying sooo hard to be deep and witty, but fails miserably because of a lack of ANY REAL STORY… Moore seems to want to remind you on every frickin’ page how clever his “real super heroes” idea is. First of all it ain’t and secondly WE GET IT ALREADY NOW DO SOMETHING WITH IT.

…and, for what I hope is the first and last time that I know of, a link between Citizen Kane and Watchmen:

I would not really call The Watchmen the “Citizen Kane of graphic novels.” It is more like Tarentino’s movie, Pulp Fiction, multiple plot lines, hip references, and plenty of gory violence and power trip fantasies to satisfy a basically adolescent audience.

Scathing Book Reviews of Romeo and Juliet, by William Shakespeare

Romeo and Julietby William Shakespeareis certainly a story you can’t avoid. They say the story of star-crossed lovers was old even when Shakespeare wrote Romeo and Juliet, but even if its true, its never been done so indelibly.

Take Romeo and Juliet away and you also lose West Side Storyand a good hunk of Shakespeare in Love. On the other hand, without the play there wouldn’t have been that insufferable Romeo + Juliet Moviewith Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes, so maybe its a fair trade. Either way, these book reviews of Romeo and Juliet agree that “For never was a story of more woe / Than this of Juliet and her Romeo”:

We liked the end when all the main characters died. It left me a great message.

…and:

Shakespeare’s book, Romeo and Juliet, is placed in the 18th century. A time in which women were not considered as thinking people or capable of having any feelings.

…and:

They arent star crossed! They are inane idiots too immersed in “love” to recognize the imprudence of their actions. Their deaths were not the least bit pitiful, but risible. Cognitive, yes. Irritating, yes. Interesting? No.

…and:

*R&J* is simply sensationalist trash. It contains a good portion of Shakespeares worst verse and insipid characterizations. It’s unchallenging, crude, and simply melodrama for the most part. It’s the Shakespearean equivalent of “Party of Five” and the Spice Girls.

…and:

As I didn’t liked the story at all I cant say lots of things about it but if I had to rewrite the book, I would do it in modern English. Old Englih is one of the reasons I didn’t liked the book. Another reason is that is a very predictable story and it has only 2 themes: Romeo and Juliet’s love and the war between their families.

…and:

For me Romeo is the worst character because he only thinks about Juliet and kissing her.

…and:

It was supposed to be tragic; I thought it was hilarious. First, everybody says that Romeo and Juliet were lovers torn apart by fate. Fate had nothing to do with it! They died through sheer stupidity and melodrama on their part.

…and:

Sometimes you wish someone would just say something straight out, instead of dressing it up with so many frills and flowers you don’t know what they’re trying to say. But I have nothing against Shakespearean English.

…and, most incredibly, the review below. I have no idea what the English teacher was thinking, but learning to read an Elizabethan play is NOT going to help you learn to speak modern English, methinks:

We are from Argentina and learning English. Our teacher recommended the book Romeo + Juliet, we thought this book was going to increase our vocabulary and help us understand better the English language, but it didn’t, instead it made it more difficult.

As Gilbert Gottfried would say, “WHY AM I NOT SURPRISED”…

Scathing Book Reviews of “Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austen

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen is one of those books that hovered about the edge of my male consciousness, vaguely associated with “Wuthering Heights”, men in Top Hats and PBS.

Then my wife and I somehow got into a “Jane Austen movie” viewing jag, or let’s say she did and I was along for the ride, and I found myself enjoying the movies, though the themes are pretty similar… We even watched The Jane Austen Book Club which ain’t bad, and Becoming Jane. Now, dare I actually READ these books? Probably, but these readers critical reviews of Pride and Prejudice may give me a prejudice against them:

I put it down at about page 100. From a fan of IMMANUEL KANT, this was too boring. Honestly, after I put it down, I had to study the Diamond Sutra and the Book of Job to get the vapid feeling out of my head.

…and:

This book failed to hold my interest and was nothing more than the chatterings and trivialities of women who want a man. Overly ‘girly’ and weak literature. F-

…and:

Over two- hundred pages wasted on useless tasteless writing! I read this book in school, and it was a majority consensus in my senior English class that Pride and Prejudice was awful.

…and:

i would recommend ppl to keep away from such a horror~ it hasn’t got the right to be called a ‘NOVEL’. i prefer lord of the flies.

…and:

I would not read again. If you like torture read book. If you smart spend money on beacon soda

…and:

This story was written in the early Victorian era, and hence it is quite old. We need to move on from the old ‘classics’. They mean nothing to readers (are there many left?) of the modern society.

…and:

lthought this may appeal to worthless romantics, it will not perform well to the MTV generation. The movie starred Hugh Grant. Please………[sic – the reviewer is thinking of Sense and Sensibility]

…and this reviewer finds the hidden – EXTREMELY well hidden, I might add – link between Jane Austen and Jerry Springer:

Essentially, it concerns a bunch of smart-aleck, stuck-up self-righteous phonies who try to outdo each other with their sarcastic and smart-aleck remarks. Give me a break, all of you who supposedly like this dull, monotonous, shallow book!! It is utterly beyond my comprehension how in the world this garbage is considered one of the great books of world literature. It is simply a 19th century British version of the Jerry Springer show.

Scathing Reviews of Hamlet, by William Shakespeare

My first introduction to Hamlet by William Shakespeare was, like millions of other kids, from that redoubtable source of literary insight, Gilligan’s Island.
No, I’m serious… There was an episode guest starring Phil Silvers as a Hollywood Producer who came to the Island to get away from it all. The castaways put on a musical version of Hamlet to “sell” Silvers on the concept, and to get him to get everyone rescued as soon as possible. Naturally, he stole the idea and left the castaways on the island. Lucky for all of us, the music for the Hamlet Musical has been enshrined on the web.

With an introduction like that, let’s face it, the REAL Hamlet can only be a letdown. These critical reviews of Hamlet find the Dane not quite so great:

I don’t know what Willy Shakespeare was thinking when he wrote this one play tragedy, but I thought this sure was boring! Hamlet does too much talking and not enough stuff. He needs to shape up and show them who’s boss.

…and:

This has to be one of the worst plays ever written, Shakespeare or no Shakespeare. While the Bard was the master of English drama, he really slipped up here. The plot makes no sense, the characters motivations are contrived, and the jokes fall flat.

…and:

All and all this play is atrocious. Though it is acclaimed as the greatest work of drama ever, it is hardly that. People who say such things, have absolutely no credibility. Hamlet’s only purpose is to confuse the reader. Any intelligent person can see through his character and realize that he is little more than a feeble mind with a large vocabulary.

…and:

In my opinion all of Shakespeare’s writings are long winded, drawn out words with no possibility of ever coming close to being remotly interesting. Hamlet was actually one of the most terribly boring, predictable, useless book ever written. The plot had no vital juices.

…and:

Simply boring, with lifelessly dull characters that can never seem to figure out what they want. It follows the standard Shakespearean tragedy plotline (Guy has stuff happen to him that’s either really good or really bad, two little subplots, and then everybody dies)

…and this reviewer, who percieveth a conspiracy, methinks:

Willy is acclaimed as the best writer of all time, but this is only because of British Media hyping the man, after 400 years.

Scathing Book Reviews of 1984, by George Orwell

1984 by George Orwell was once broadly viewed as a warning of things to come in a possible future. Now its seen, more correctly, as a criticism of forms of both thinking and political behavior, specifically of the Soviet Union, but of all governments in general. I read it simply because back in 1984, it seemed the thing to do, and I’m glad I did it. These reviewers? Not so much:

The plot is fairly simplistic but with redundant lines. “Oceania has always been war with Eastasia.” “Freedom is slavery.” “Big Brother is watching you.” In other words, it was nothing but a lot of nonsensical fillers.

…and:

Orwell is one of the most overrated novelists of this century. He’s nothing more nor less than a second-rate hack who profiteered by preying on the worst fears of modern man. Today, his book is the modern bible of the paranoid disgruntled white male…

…and:

I reccommend this book to people who are willing to sit threw some boring parts and who love science fiction.

…and:

This book was an overrated classic and a big fat FLUB!

…and:

1984 might have been scary 100 years ago, but not now. If you like reading about old people think they are beating the system by saving a PAPERWEIGHT, then by all means…

…and:

Great attitude George… Let’s try to be a little more optomistic, and work on a happier ending, shall we?

…and this review from a Happy Citizen:

Something like that could never happen in my country I’m happy in communist China